A charge repeatedly made against Boris Johnson over the past 16 months is that he has ‘ignored scientific advice’. But unless he has been in the habit of drumming his fingers on the table and looking out of the window while Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have made their presentations, it is a silly accusation. We do not live in a technocracy where scientific advisers have absolute power. In handling the pandemic, it has been the Prime Minister’s job to weigh up advice from many quarters — medical, scientific, economic, legal and political — and then make decisions. If the decisions do not always match what scientific advisers advised, that does not mean Johnson has ignored them; only that he has decided, on balance, that a different course of action is justified.
What we have heard from the PM this week suggests that he and his government are finally seeing the bigger picture. Whole groups of schoolchildren will no longer be forced to self-isolate just because one classmate tests positive. The pandemic has already damaged their education and therefore their life chances over the next few decades, though we know Covid is a disease that is unlikely to cause children any harm.
People who have been double-vaccinated will no longer be forced to isolate if ‘pinged’ by the Test and Trace system, but will be tested instead. These changes could go further. What is the point of billions spent on Test and Trace — given its obvious failure to keep infections under control? Nevertheless, the latest reforms are welcome and should mean many thousands of people will no longer be forced to stay at home when neither ill nor infectious.
Many people are concerned at the news that the government intends to plough on with the lifting of restrictions when the number testing positive for Covid is rising — and may hit 100,000 a day within weeks, according to the new Health Secretary.